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SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailers for Waiting, Grizzly Man, Ultimate Avengers, Aristocrats, A Good
Woman, and In the Mix
Conscientious filmmaking is always tough to tackle, especially in light of current events. It is a tricky mistress to seduce and more often than not the results have been mixed (Syriana) through the more spectacular attempts (Munich). Which brings us to former Spielberg collaborator Andrew Niccol (The Terminal), whose career is peppered with the types of filmmaking that requires thought amongst its more entertaining caveats. Just look at The Truman Show or even the totalitarian genetic engineering experiment of Gattaca. Both movies have their fair share of probing questions to our society, so it was only a necessary progression for Niccol to tell the tale of international gunrunning and what it is good for (absolutely nothing) in Lord of War.
His name really isn’t Yuri Orlov, as he recounts the tale, but he’s a charming bastard who can outsell, outcon, and outwin the best of them. The role is typically enhanced by the quirky charms of Nicolas Cage, who inhabits Orlov with every facial tick, head tilt, and language mannerism required to seal the deal and make his slimy deeds become likeable. Without this, the movie would simply regress into watching a thoroughly despicable man doing insanely loathsome deeds. And most viewers with either go along for the ride (as I did) or quickly form sides against such a slithering antihero telling essentially his memoirs from the 1980’s to present day. That the movie rests mostly on Cage’s performance is telling, considering Niccol’s script (from his own pen) starts off incredibly strong and backs down within its final transgressions.
"Hey look! It’s Vampire’s Kiss!"
The Orlov’s have escaped to Brighton Beach and it’s the start of Morning in America, although for Yuri and his brother Vitaly (pretty-boy Jared Leto) it feels like it’s the exact opposite. The only bright spot is the presence of the vivacious dream girl Eva Fontaine (the lackluster Bridget Moynahan) who is shuttled off until needed later (i.e. when he seduces her on St. Barts and quickly marries her). Yuri’s epiphany comes in the form of a Russian Mob hit. His eagle eyes focus on the more pressing matters at hand – people are always going to kill one another. So off he goes to sell guns – Uzis at first through a family connection, AK-47’s later – along the way discovering that he quite good at the practice to which he describes almost like selling vacuums. You’ve got to get out and press the flesh and pound the pavement, so-to speak.
The world’s misfortunes are Yuri’s good deeds, and throughout the years there isn’t a warlord, dictator, or even scum of the underworld that he isn’t on a first name basis with. These situations continually take their toll on the man; but he’s a fast thinker and an even greater con. There’s a situation where Interpol Agent Jack Valentine (played by Niccol cohort Ethan Hawke) is scouring the seas looking for Orlov’s gunrunning ship and Yuri hears the news via his cellphone. Quickly establishing the time frame to complete a switcheroo, Orlov has his men change the name of the ship and thinking ahead, has covered all of the M16 boxes in their crates with rotting potatoes. However, these instances prove no match for Valentine’s cunning do-gooder of a Policier, and sadly it’s rather simple how he ends up taking him down in the film’s denouement.
"I wish you’d stop posting that about Mom…"
That said, the rest of the film – with Yuri’s brother being a cokehead and his wife blindly accepting their wealthy lifestyle without my conscientious thought, prove to be some of the more weak links of Niccol’s narrative. There are various moments throughout the film where I was enraptured in the hows and whys of Yuri’s business with these nefarious men of death, and the filmmakers keep going back and rounding out the B-stories with Vitaly’s descent into madness and Eva’s trite domestic arguments with her lying husband. They just don’t feel right coupled up against the rest of the plot. They’re not half-baked, but they’re not well-rounded either. Entire moments are left out or alluded to, and wrapped up quickly in anteceding sequences, especially Vitaly’s drug problem that seems to vanish overnight after a stern talking to from big brother. He’s a woefully misunderused character whose retribution doesn’t feel truthful enough.
Niccol does keep absolutely everything visually stunning, however, and the film is presented in this haze of bright gun-like colors. Lord of War is wrapped in silvers, blacks, greens, and browns. There are scenes which are spectacular – the opening sequence tracking over a ground strewn with bullets, the opening title sequence following a jerky CGI’ed bullet from conception to execution (literally), and the rapid-fire stylistic choices throughout each new area’s war zones will leave you engaged throughout the whole. But there are just those moments after starting off well where the film semi-falters, and struggles to regain its footing narratively-speaking. Characters don’t feel fleshed out enough around Yuri and suspicions don’t quite pay off. That’s one of my main gripes with the film, as most of these instances feel just out of reach, almost like the law enforcement lumbering right behind Yuri’s last two steps.
Somewhere off-screen, you’ll find Dave Davis and Tarantino.
But when Lord of War works, it really fires on all cylinders. It might have something to do with the relatively tongue-in-cheek mode Cage presents on screen, backed up by inspired moments as in Afghanistan where a Fighter unloads bullets from his AK-47 and the sounds you hear ringing from its chamber aren’t mechanical but rather capitalistic in nature – cash ka-chings. Its style shares the same image juxtaposition of smashing images together that Scorsese pioneered and Demme fortified as homage in his collaboration with Johnny Depp. Either way, Niccol makes his narrative rather critical of the whole embargo without preaching too much on his part. You’re left to come up with your own conclusions with the sort of work Orlov represents; the seedy, sordid, entirely despicable trades he involves himself with. And when confronted about knowing the truth of his sales in order to kill human beings, he’d rather look the other way, or not know about it at all. This is sadly, a great comment on how the World and civilized countries work today and knowing that makes the moments scary and timely.
As I previously mentioned, with Nicolas Cage being charming in his odd way, Lord of War would falter more often than it does. Cage’s Yuri is what we’ve come to expect from him and his enthusiasm for the abominable job he does is quite scary. He’s the glue that keeps everything from falling apart, and his acceptance of substance abuse (except it’s with guns) and ultimate parallel with his brother is an interesting downfall to watch. Not only is it within human nature, but Cage makes everything feel organic right down to his Jerry MaGuire “I’m not gonna freak out!” style of acting. He’s obviously one of the most entertaining items about the film and you’ll be caught up in his story from start to finish. I just wished he had aged a little in the film’s 20+ year span, but perhaps that has something to do with the elusive ‘immortality’ Orlov speaks of throughout his misadventures.
"What’s the matter?!?! You don’t like Tape?!?!?"
As for Ethan Hawke’s Interpol agent, I kept wondering if it were in some way a jab at Washingtonian supper lobbyist (and former MPAA head) Jack Valente. Hawke’s Valentine is a man who plays strictly by the rules of enforcement and is willing to do so within the law. I’m probably overreaching on such a name association, but Hawke’s white-hot intensity towards brining down the evil villans of the world (much like those digital pirates of Valentes) feels almost one in the same. Jared Leto’s brooding persona is not quite a match for Cage’s more authoritarian skills. As such, he’s forced to spend most of the time snorting coke (is this a change?) and bouncing in from one rehab stint to another. I felt like he only shows up when Cage needed a more grounded perspective in life, as Leto appears to crash at the most opportune times – familial get-togethers. And as for Bridget Moynahan, I was underwhelmed by her presence throughout. She’s essentially playing the dream girl to the T here (and granted, she is gorgeous), but there are times when the lines she delivers – like “is there anything I should be worried about?” – become a USPS package of atrociousness. Delivered right to your home theatre.
The filmmaking on display here is slick, stylish, and almost manipulative – but Niccol definitely understands the sacrifices and shady underhanded dealings that serve humanity’s worst in Yuri’s encounters doing what he does best. So I’m most definitely conflicted with Lord of War simply because it started off so magnificently and regressed, slightly, into something lesser than it was attempting to shine a spotlight on.
8.6 out of 10
"Speaking of which, where’s your other arm?"
Controversy has struck the aspect ratio of Lord of War simply because while in theatres, it was presented in anamorphic scope – 2.40:1. For both DVDs (Widescreen and the Special Edition) it’s been shrunk to 1.77:1, almost a European ratio. Thedigitalbits.com received a letter from Lions Gate stating that the production company asked to have the aspect ratio rescinded into its current state. One wonders what Andrew Niccol thinks of such a development.
The image is fairly flawless. The colors are radiant and vibrant, especially throughout each countries’ specific color schemes. Attractive is probably the more correct nomenclature, so image-wise, you could do a lot worse.
9.0 out of 10
"It’s Morning in Americ- HOLY SHIT! MY FACE!"
For this single disc Edition, you’ll get Dolby Digital 5.1 (SE buyers get DTS 6.1). The sound is quite nice, being a movie about guns and all. You’ll hear enough pings and pangs to make you feel like you’re traveling to warzones in tow with Orlov. Most of your speakers will feel the burn, and that’s a necessary great item when dealing with a thinking-man’s action (in the simplest term) film.
9.0 out of 10
Considering the DVD I’m reviewing is the single-disc Widescreen edition, all we get is trailers. The Special Edition has the more cohesive features of the two (including an audio commentary track with Niccol himself – purchase that through CHUD here).
The trailers represented on the disc are for Waiting, Grizzly Man, Ultimate Avengers, The Aristocrats, A Good Woman, and the Usher-esque In the Mix. You’ve all seen these before, so for me to sum them up would be unnecessary and a waste of our time.
If you’re a casual fan of Lord of War, I’d still recommended the 2-Disc Special Edition. These barebones editions feel like a waste when such definitive editions are packaged separately alongside it.
2.0 out of 10
Back when the film was released in theatres, I was a fan of the image of Nicolas Cage made up of singular bullets (check that out here), so I suppose it’s my fanboy internet duty to complain that Lions Gate and the Home Video Department didn’t use such an iconic image that sums up the film quite nicely. As it stands, the shot of Cage looking smugly and Hawke taking up the rear, gun-at-the-ready, feels something out of a mediocre buddy-cop film. Especially when there’s a gigantic fucking explosion right behind them. Cage and Hawke team up to fight injustice in … Lord of War! Consider me displeased and continually frowning.
It’s in a Man’s nature to turn away when
one wants to shoot off some jollies.
5.0 out of 10